Turning 20, the biggest Nerf enthusiast competition in SoCal is about to rain foam darts on Glendora – Daily News

on Jun23
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What makes a person want to take a Nerf blaster — those fun foam-dart-flinging toys — open it up, make it shoot faster and farther, then use it to play games against other people?

For Santa Clarita resident Chris Cartaya, it happened when he saw his nephews playing with some brand new blasters in 2008. The blasters looked cool, but the darts were only traveling about 20 feet before falling to the ground, he said.

“I thought, ‘We can do better than that,’” Cartaya said.

So he bought one for himself, opened it up and by replacing a few springs with more powerful ones, all of a sudden the darts were flying 45 feet. He then searched online to see if other people were making similar alterations and found an entire world of Nerf blaster modding.

The Nerf modding hobby, as people refer to it, has been around more than 20 years. Every year, the “Nerfers” in Southern California gather for Armageddon — a competition at which people pit their blasters against one another — set to celebrate its 20th anniversary in Glendora on June 29.

Armageddon XX is planned for 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday June 29 at Stanton Elementary School, 725 S. Vecino Ave.

While no one really knows when people first began modifying Nerf blasters, it’s safe to say no one was talking about it on the internet until 1997, said Pasadena resident and Armageddon founder Ryan Witherspoon, AKA “Spoon.”

At that point, Witherspoon was a 13- or-14- year-old growing up in Irvine, and he recalled searching the then-information superhighway only to find two Nerf websites.

Witherspoon made his own website, the Die Hard Nerf Warrior Home Page, and was the first person to put Nerf blaster modding instructions online. He eventually began organizing regular Nerf “wars” — competitions where people could fire their blasters against one another — and they eventually caught the eye of a group of Nerfers from New Jersey who called themselves “The Four Horsemen.”

With the Four Horsemen visiting, Witherspoon and his friends dubbed that war in the summer of 1999 “Armageddon,” and the name has stuck for 20 years.

That first Armageddon in Irvine drew 60-70 people, from teenagers to adults, and the number has remained consistent throughout the years, with attendance on occasion topping 100 people as it has moved across Southern California, most recently making Glendora its home.

Witherspoon, now a psychotherapist — they now call him “Dr. Spoon” — stopped helping organize Armageddon when he was in his early 20s. He still attends the event every now and then to see old friends as well as to check in with how the hobby’s grown, he said.

“It just makes me so happy to see the community flourishing,” Witherspoon said. “The best part to me is just seeing everyone come and have a good time.”

While people may view hobbies like paintball or airsoft as more appropriate for adults, part of the appeal is that Nerf blasters are less serious, less dangerous and just plain goofier, said Glendora resident Nate Little, or Bags, who took over organizing Armageddon after Witherspoon went hands-off.

“It bridges a lot of generational gaps. There are kids who grew up with modern Nerf stuff, adults like me who grew up as a kid in the heyday of ’90s-era blasters, just a really broad range of nerds,” Little said. “One thing that seems to come in common is how goofy and dorky and outsider-y the people are in this hobby, who find a community that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Little, an arts educator who has taught at high schools in Glendora and in Orange County, said he’s appreciated seeing younger Nerfers connecting the hobby with their schoolwork in STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, subjects.

“Most of the kids who are up-and-comers in the hobby are getting into STEM fields straight out of high school because of what they’re learning through Nerf,” Little said. “They’re learning 3D printing and CNC (computer numerical control) milling techniques.”

In addition, participants are responsible for cleaning up the parks and school sites where Armageddon is held, with many stopping by the day after to ensure there’s no trace of any sign they were there.

“Here’s something that uses a third of the energy of paintballs, the ammunition is reuseable and it doesn’t vandalize anything,” Cartaya said. “It’s a format more feasible for public play.”

Since he got into the Nerf modding hobby in 2012, Cartaya has become a well known figure by both designing modifications and discussing them on his YouTube channel. Some of the blasters Cartaya modifies these days fire darts at a speed of 300 feet-per-second or faster.

He still recalls being nervous about attending his first Armageddon in 2014, but he said he’s glad he went and has delved even deeper into the hobby.

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